Squad numbers

I don’t mind admitting that I am a bit of a number nerd. One of the ways this manifests itself in Football Manager is in the assignment of squad numbers. This is one of my favourite parts of the game and I spend all summer eagerly awaiting the day when I have to submit my finalised list. In order to get the list just right, there are certain rules I follow:

  1. No existing player can change his squad number.
  2. Players in the same position cannot have consecutive squad numbers (unless this would violate rule #1) – so currently my second team, AS Roma, are in my bad books as their three right-backs, Alessandro Florenzi, Bruno Peres and Rick Karsdorp are 24, 25 and 26 respectively.
  3. Once a player has a number lower than 30, he keeps that number. I’ll occasionally move a youth-team player (regen only though!) from 30+ down to a lower number, but there they stay.
  4. Players with favoured squad numbers are accomodated.
  5. Where two players have the same favoured squad number, the more senior gets it. The less senior gets the closest number visually (e.g. if they both want 4, the less senior gets 44)
  6. In Italy, anything goes. In fact, it seems obligatory to have a crazy number in the squad somewhere.
  7. Local customs are to be observed, so for example, in the Netherlands the left-back wears 5, not 3.
  8. If a player leaves and re-joins, he will be given his old number back if it is free. If not, he gets the nearest visual equivalent (e.g. 4 and 44 as with #5, or if he used to wear 12 he may now get 21)

Number-specific rules:

Most of these come from some crazy Forest-related memories and associations I’ve built up.

  • I don’t really like 7, but tend to give it to a left-winger more than a right winger for some reason, or a ball-winning midfielder (heavily influenced by Andy Reid and David Prutton here)
  • 12 is good for a back-up keeper, or a utility player.
  • 13 goes to a key player, usually right-sided or central. Very rarely left-sided
  • 14 is a key left-sided attacker (I have Ian Woan to thank for this!)
  • 15 is left-footed and usually defensive (Craig Armstrong and Tony Vaughan inspired this, and Chris Cohen’s stint wearing 15 only added to it). Failing that, it may be the second-choice keeper’s shirt.
  • 16 is a defensive midfielder (think Daniele De Rossi or Roy Keane. Or Michael Carrick perhaps)
  • 19 is usually a back-up striker, though this can also be a defensive midfielder’s number.
  • 22 is either a left winger or a right-back (Bryan Roy or Des Lyttle – there are no other options)
  • 23 is a striker (Dexter Blackstock and Junior Agogo)
  • 27 is the third-choice goalkeeper. I have a truly irrational dislike of this number and so I give it to someone who has little or no chance of ever making the matchday squad. Cruel, but necessary in my eyes.

And that’s about it. There may be more ‘rules’ which I have forgotten, so this post may be edited as they come back to me. Let me know how you deal with squad numbers and if you have any habits or rules you stick to.

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#unfinishedbusiness – Season 1, early stages

I’m now just about a quarter of the way through the season and things are going OK. We currently sit 14th, but results have tailed off in the last few matches.

Season 1 first quarter

We started well, but then the defence had a couple of wobbly games before the attack fell apart too.

Season 1 first quarter results

Even more aggravating, both Bari and Pisa were in the relegation zone when we played them. Bari dominated us and Pisa FM’d us totally.

To rectify this situation, I am thinking of switching tactics. The 3-5-2 suits the general make-up of the squad but is placing an incredible burden on the two wing-backs as I have precious little cover. Not only that, but I have noticed several things which are making me want a change:

  • Despite having five players in central defence or midfield, teams are finding it too easy to overload me in this area. I noticed in more than one match that this was causing my right wing-back to be sucked into central midfield, leaving my entire right flank unprotected.
  • Also, the lack of DM meant that one of the centre backs was stepping up to deal with an opposition AMC, creating a gap in central defence.
  • When teams do attack in wide areas, the central midfielders are not coming across to help out enough, leaving my wing-backs up against two players.
  • Most teams are playing with a lone striker which means I have two spare players at the back.
  • The formation doesn’t really suit a high press which means teams are often approaching my defensive third before anyone engages them.

So what’s the solution? To be honest, I’m not sure. The points above are directing me towards a 4-1-something formation, though I’m uncertain what to do with the remaining five players. I’ve recruited a couple of strikers so could play with a front two, but a lack of wingers counts against a 4-4-2. I have one decent right winger and a striker who can play AML, so a 4-3-3 is possible, but I may well return to the 4-3-1-2 the squad was seemingly built for, or a 4-4-2 diamond.

I’ll have a play around and the next post will reveal whether or not it was a success!

#unfinishedbusiness – Season 1, pre-season

Shortly after taking over, I began to regret my decision. The cause of this? Well, the state of the squad. It’s hard to know where to start, but this is a very badly managed squad. Most of the players are on loan. Most are 24 or under, and the rest are over 30. Sadly, the two things are linked. The players Brescia own are the old ones, already in decline in most cases, while those with potential and years ahead of them are merely passing through in a selection of loan deals. The screenshot below shows the players permanently contracted to Brescia in the first-team squad.

Squad - players owned

Looking way into the future, there are some good prospects at the club, but in the club’s infinite wisdom they’ve mostly been loaned out for the season and can’t be recalled. Next year might be better then, but this first season will be a struggle.

Worse still, the squad has been built with a 4-3-1-2 in mind (assuming the preferred formation of the outgoing Christian Brocchi had any influence) yet we have a random winger on loan and only three main strikers. Even worse is the cover at full-back. There isn’t any. Racine Coly is my only left-back, with Leonardo Blanchard, one of my better centre-backs vaguely able to play there, but given his lack of pace or crossing ability he offers little going forward. On the right, I have several centre-backs who can provide cover for Joel Untersee, but again they offer little going forward. There is also a significant lack of flair and creativity in this squad, so my hope is to grind out narrow wins and look to bring in a little more magic over the coming transfer windows.

On the bright side, we have some strength and height in our team so we should be good in the air. Set-pieces could prove important, which is a double-edged sword as I’m not very good at creating routines. Some research and quick learning required here!

After experimenting with a 4-3-1-2, a system I had used with some success in my GAIS save, in the end I gave in to the inevitable. A squad this well-stocked with centre-backs and midfielders was surely better suited to a 3-5-2 variant? This way I also have a little better cover for the left wing-back position as Alessandro Martinelli can play there too.

Alessandro Martinelli

After a little more tweaking through pre-season, I ended up with the tactic below:

5212 tactic

There’s nothing revolutionary about this system and it will undoubtedly be modified more as the save progresses.

So with regard to pre-season, how did it go? In actual fact, pretty well.

Season 1 pre-season

I’ll freely admit that we weren’t up against any world-beating sides, however I’m delighted to have a record of one goal conceded in nine games. The switch to having a player in the AMC slot also seems to have paid off, with the win over SPAL and subsequent demolitions of Gubbio and Lumezzane. All the goals can be seen below:

Let me know what you think of the videos – I’m quite attached to the ‘Behind Goal Low’ view, but I know it isn’t always the best angle.

Next update will show how we get on in the first few games of the season. Thanks for reading!

#unfinishedbusiness, or, Hello again (part 2)

A hashtag to strike fear into the heart of any Forest fan! But while referencing our dear departed Billy, I am re-purposing it for my own ends. For the sake of this save I will not be resurrecting Forest (I think that is beyond me in all honesty) but instead rebooting something I started in FM15 and rapidly abandoned.

1113I will be taking over Brescia and attempting to make them into a domestically dominant conveyor belt of Italian talent. (I didn’t write about it in the end, but this was where my FMC15 Volendam save ended up – I was producing a wonderkid a season virtually to the point where signings became something of an indulgence. I’d like my Brescia save to become the same sort of thing.)

Now, the one thing I have learned from playing FMT17 already is that it is much harder (at least, for a player of my ability) to string together the dominant runs that were possible in previous versions. Even Rashidi (and if you’re an FM player and don’t know who he is, where have you been?!) has commented that in previous versions he could go unbeaten for hundreds of games and now he has to work to make that into dozens of games. So, I know this will not be easy. It may not even be possible for me. However, while having a dominant club is fun, the real enjoyment – for me anyway – comes from building that club to that point and solving the problems faced along the way.

I may have written about my reasons for choosing Brescia in the original post from a couple of years ago, but I’m going to write about them again. Firstly, I can’t be bothered to go back and find my previous post (and therefore don’t expect you to do so either) and secondly the reasons may have changed (unlikely, but just in case…).

The main reason for choosing a club outside of Serie A is that I like to build a club up. If you’ve read this blog before, you’ll know I’m a Forest fan first and foremost but close behind come AS Roma. Much as I would like to assume control of i Lupi I don’t see the point in taking over the second best team in the country because then if/when trophies arrive, there’s no real sense of achievement. I did the Roma save in FMC15 simply to test out the 4-3-3 tactic and then I got quite involved as it was going well. In the past I have managed Messina from Serie C to Serie A, and I was quite tempted to have a go with them again, but that would have felt a little repetitive. So instead, I’m trying to finish what I started with Brescia.

So what made me choose Brescia back in FM15? Well, that year my wife and I had honeymooned on Lake Garda and I wanted to manage a local side. Feralpi Salo were out of the question as Shrewnaldo has got them covered and both Verona sides (Hellas and Chievo) were in Serie A at the time (if memory serves). Not only that, but we were staying in the Brescia province, so the deal was sealed.

Finally, there is quite a long list of impressive players who have donned a Brescia shirt in recent years. There’s these two for a start:

roberto-baggio-pirlo-brescia

And then there’s this guy:

captura-de-pantalla-2014-07-11-a-las-13-14-02

And George Hagi:

hagi2

And someone who is currently part of the best team to watch in Italy:

hamsik_brescia

So I’d like to build the club to the point where I have someone to rival this rather impressive collection.

Hello again (part 1)

Remember me? I used to blog about FMC15.

So what happened? Well, I made the mistake of buying FM16. I hated it. I started numerous saves, failed with each one, got frustrated, quit the game, started again… the cycle went on and on. I clocked up 201 hours of gameplay and only completed one season in-game. The rest of the time I was sacked or had lost the essential joy of FM by November. I blamed it on the ‘crossing bug’ but truth be told it was because I wasn’t good enough at the game. I’d struck lucky with FMC15 and this had made me complacent, while simultaneously there were some important changes being made to FM which have then repeatedly caught me out. My frustration drove me back to FMC15, and in the end I completed 20 seasons with Volendam (I still have the save, and dip back in from time to time).

I decided to give FMT17 a go as a last-chance-saloon type thing for FM and me. What my experience with Messina in FM15 and then subsequent experiences with FM16 taught me is that I am now a Football Manager Touch player. As much as I want to be able to control the tutoring of younger players and build a high quality coaching staff, I don’t consider that worth the hassle of the endless (and endlessly repetitive) player and media interaction.

So, after buying FMT17, it was time to go back to the drawing board and try to re-learn how to play the game.

Over the last nine months or so, I have spent a lot of time reading, watching and learning, with a little experimentation thrown in for good measure. I had a save with GAIS in Sweden which has proved reasonably successful and has been a nice testing ground for some ideas and has taught me some things to look out for. However, I am something like eight seasons into that save and so it seems a little pointless writing about that. Instead, over the coming weeks you will see me write about an entirely new save, from day one onwards. I hope you like it, and as always, suggestions as to how to improve my save are always welcome.

FM15 Italian Hero, Season 3 – A pleasant surprise

It’s fair to say that this season was rather successful…

Season 3 final league table

Which therefore means, mission accomplished…

ITALIAN HERO

So how did we do it, and what does this mean for the save?

Well, to answer the first question, we did it with a certain amount of style.

In the end, we finished 6 points clear at the top of the table, having had a couple of stumbles along the way. There was a point just after January where I thought we’d never shake Spezia off. Then, in about March, their first-choice goalkeeper picked up an injury which ruled him out for about six weeks (a news item I celebrated, I’m slightly ashamed to say) after which their form deteriorated.

Season 3 results part 1

Season 3 results part 2

The most pleasing aspect of this is that I achieved it playing a different style of football from my normal approach, and I’d also taken the bold step of changing a winning formula because I wasn’t happy with how it played. Ultimately, I ditched the 3-1-4-1-1 for a more conventional-looking 3-5-1-1 (or 3-3-2-1-1) if you prefer. You can see the issues I had with the 3-1-4-1-1 in the screenshots below.

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These two aren’t from the same move, but as you can see, as attacks progressed the wide midfielders crowded the box and robbed me of my width. My answer was to move them back to WB(a) and the problem was pretty much solved. This gives me better defensive balance too, as we are rarely caught on the break down the flanks any more.

It’s also a source of pride for me that I had a perfectly viable backup formation which I could use as and when necessary. This is the 4-1-4-1 which I have shown briefly in a previous post, but I’m including it below for completeness.

4-1-4-1 Defensive Season 2

Again, this is a different approach for me in a number of ways – firstly, it is rare for me to develop two distinct tactics to be available simultaneously and secondly, the 4-1-4-1 uses a Defensive mentality, something I’ve avoided in the past. For this, I must thank Cleon and Rashidi. It’s taken the best part of two years since Cleon wrote his first ‘School of the Defensive Arts’ piece for FM14, and I’ve watched a lot of Rashidi’s Torino Diaries series (often in incomprehension) but things must be sinking in. For anybody struggling with tactics, his ‘Make the best tactics’ videos are very helpful.

As for the future of the save, I’m definitely going to continue it. As the club had very little in the way of a youth system, I’m determined to upgrade that until we have a decent conveyor belt of young players appearing. I don’t know whether becoming regular title challengers is a realistic aim, but I would certainly like to think that we could get into Europe and add a couple of Coppa Italia’s to the trophy cabinet.

I probably won’t continue with the annual updates (unless there’s a significant clamour for them). Instead, I think I may focus on specific events or techinques I use. I already have an idea for a squad management post, which I hope will appear before too long….

In the meantime, Forza Messina!

FM15 Italian Hero – I went a bit mad…

So the summer transfer window has come and gone, and I’ll freely admit I went a bit bonkers, as you can see from the screenshot below. There is a reason for that though.

Season 2 pre-season transfers

Towards the end of season 1, with Catanzaro looking unstoppable and the prospect of one play-off promotion spot among the twelve teams in the play-off spots across all three divisions of Serie C, I started preparing for the worst and signed a couple of midfielders who I hoped would give us a more solid foundation for controlling games. I was concerned that my loan players wouldn’t want another season of third tier football so moved early and this perhaps wasn’t the wisest course of action…

When we secured promotion, suddenly a lot more players were interested in joining Messina and with a generous wage budget available I had money to burn, and burn it I did. Amazingly, I still didn’t exceed my budget and went into the season with money still available.

However, the the greatest cost of all these signings wasn’t financial.Instead, it was in terms of tactical familiarity. As the season went on, it became clear that many of these signings weren’t really clicking and on several occasions I found that the team performed better if I picked players who had been at the club from day one even if they were inferior in terms of their attributes. As a result, many of these players (particularly those who were signed when I thought I might still be in Serie C this season) found that their spell at Messina would be short-lived.

Season 2 results part 1

Season 2 results part 2

As you can see from the fixtures, we had a decent season, with things going OK in the first few months. Then came the run of 5 defeats on the trot which forced me to abandon the 4-3-3 which had brought me so much success at Volendam and Forest.

To start with, I dropped the mentality to Defensive, simply because I was tired of my team conceding goals. This was slightly better, but it wasn’t until I turned it into a 4-1-4-1 that things really improved. I had also watched Rashidi’s Torino Diaries episode in which he talked about creating space for attackers. It was this that made me think of switching to a Complete/Advanced Forward as I felt I wasn’t getting enough goals from my strikers.

4-1-4-1 Defensive Season 2

Then, with results and confidence improving, I made another bold step. Why wait to make the switch to a back three? As a result, with a little tweaking, I created this system:

3-6-1 Messina Season 2

Readers of the general FM blogosphere will note a strong resemblence to FM Analysis’s tactic from his Ajax save. I won’t deny that my system is heavily influenced by his shape. It was thanks to his article on defensive shape that I had the courage to play my wide players in the midfield strata rather than playing them as wing-backs.

I will go into the thinking behind the system in greater detail in another post, along with my intentions for how it should evolve in the near future.

In the end, the results improved to such an extent that we finished 7th and qualified for the end of season promotion play-offs. One of the things I’ve discovered (and like) about the Serie B play-off is that they are very flexible, and take into account the performances of the teams at the top of the table. For those of you who aren’t familiar, here’s the breakdown:

Serie B promotion rules

All very complicated, but that’s not all. In the play-offs themselves, they are skewed in favour of the teams who finish higher up the league. As a result, we had a one-off away match against Spezia which we needed to win. And I mean that literally – a draw wouldn’t take us to extra time and penalties, we would simply be knocked out and Spezia would progress by virtue of having been the higher-placed team. So it proved as I’m sure you’ve seen from the screenshot above.

Still, 7th place when predicted to finish 20th was very encouraging. I’m aiming for promotion next season using my fancy new 3-1-4-1-1 system, though I have doubts about certain aspects of it (but that’s for another post).